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Gunmen kill 9 anti-Taleban volunteers in NW Pakistan ‘Pak among most dangerous countries for journalists’

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 12, (AFP): Militants killed nine men in a raid on a house of anti-Taleban activists in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, the latest violence to hit fledgling peace talks. The attack came as Taleban and government negotiators try to start meaningful talks to end a seven-year Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. A government negotiator told AFP Wednesday the Taleban had agreed to enter direct dialogue without intermediaries if their safety could be guaranteed.

Around two dozen fighters were involved Wednesday’s attack in Mashukhel neighbourhood of Peshawar, close to the lawless Khyber tribal district, where Taleban and Islamist groups are active. Taleban and other militant groups have been targeting locals who support the security forces or have formed vigilante groups against them. “At least nine men were shot dead by militants who stormed into a house around 4:30 am firing with automatic weapons and exploding hand grenades,” senior police official Fazal-e- Wahid told AFP.

Furious residents blocked the main highway linking Peshawar with the garrison town of Kohat for some time to protest against the killings, Tilla Khan, a local peace committee member, told AFP. The attack came a day after 13 people were killed by a triple grenade attack on a Peshawar cinema which was showing pornography. Earlier in the month a separate cinema in the city was also hit by grenades, killing four and wounding 31. Wahid said the militant group involved in Wednesday’s attack separated adult males of the family, shot them and later fled. A man of the same family who served in the community police was killed in an armed attack some 18 months ago, Wahid added. Najib-ur-Rehman, another senior police official, confirmed the incident and said the gunmen had targeted the family because of their affiliations with a local peace committee. Khyber straddles the NATO supply line into Afghanistan, used by US-led troops to evacuate military equipment as they withdraw by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual report released Wednesday, with the restive province of Baluchistan a hotspot for violence. Seven reporters were killed in the line of duty in 2013, the report said, blaming the government’s “unwillingness to administer justice”. By comparison, ten journalists were killed in Syria, eight in the Philippines and seven in Somalia. Placing Pakistan as the 158th country out of 180 on its Press Freedom Index, the report noted: “The government appears powerless in the Taleban... and the military establishment, which is known as a ‘state within a state’ among many international observers.” Four of the deaths occurred in Baluchistan in southwestern Pakistan, which is wracked by Islamist violence and a longrunning ethnic separatist insurgency.

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